Home » Baby Steps toward a Paperless Physics Class…

Baby Steps toward a Paperless Physics Class…

This is a thing I’ve been secretly working on for weeks, but it has become more relevant in the last few days.

Yesterday during our daily announcements video, our principal announced that there would be no backpacks in the halls or classrooms once we move to the new school building.  (Students can bring backpacks from home and leave them in their lockers, and then pick them up and use them to take stuff home at the end.)

My freshmen seemed pretty neutral to the idea and didn’t have much to say as they watched the video.  However, my juniors in physics had a lot to say about it today.  They really wanted to know how I felt.

I understand that these are the kids who probably have 3 or 4 monster textbooks to tote around (mine being one of them).  I also understand that most of these teachers require separate notebooks or binders.  (Again, guilty as charged…)

So I was honest with them.  I asked them to look in my corner behind my desk.  There lies my green and grey plaid backpack.

“See, even you have a backpack!”

I confessed that I did.  Teacher’s editions are heavy, and carrying them around used to be a pain in the butt.

Then my second confession:  My backpack hasn’t gone home since Thanksgiving break.  I’ve switched to using the .pdf version of the textbook.  I have copies of everything on our school’s Microsoft One Drive.  It’s awesome because I can literally stop working after school, walk home with nothing, and have access to all of my resources on my home computer (if the urge to work strikes).

In my own self-contained teacher bubble, I am paperless as I plan and build assignments.  However when I get to work, I make copies and distribute textbooks like everybody else.  Our school is an older building, the wifi isn’t great.  I share my laptop cart with two other teachers.   Not every student’s phone runs the same operating system.

It was really easy to use these things as excuses as to why I couldn’t go paperless with the students!  But the more I think about it, they are just excuses and can be overcome.

We are moving to a brand new building next year so (hopefully) the wifi will be better.  The reason I mention the move is that it’s made me lazy.  I look at the things I need to pack and think ‘I just don’t wanna!’

So out of laziness, I put on my thinking cap and decided to do what I could with One Note and One Drive.  If I can digitize some stuff, I can travel lighter, right?

Here’s a picture of my ‘Physics Test Run’ on my Tablet:

One Note

The blue tabs at the top show the three chapters in the kinematics unit.  The first sidebar to the right shows all of the pages I’ve put into the chapter one section.  Answer keys appear because this copy is not shared to anyone else.  This is my master copy and if everything goes according to plan, I will gift this notebook out to the students one chapter at a time.

The farthest grey sidebar shows a search that I have open.  I have flagged all of the homework assignments with To Do tags.  A student (or myself) can easily search and get a list of all current assignments.  As a teacher, I can tag things as important, or websites they should visit, or even custom tags.

So all the videos and websites I would bring up during class are in the hands of the students as part of their book.  If they have a tablet, they can write notes directly in their book.  I really like that I can create a website tag, format it, and put it on the page exactly where it would be relevant to a confused student.  Likewise, I would never have to ‘take’ assignments done in the notebook, because I would have viewing and editing access to each student’s notebook in real time.

Another perk of having a .pdf textbook?  Ctrl-F works!  Ok now I’m officially rambling.

Anyway, I had been using One Note as a personal organization system, but had reservations about using it for next year without access to a laptop cart or a one to one environment.

I hadn’t really thought about the idea of using One Note on phones until today.  Not sure why it took me so long to reach this conclusion, but it didn’t take long to find the One Note app on my android phone, and confirm on my iPad that an iOS version exists.

5 minutes later, my entire digital notebook was on my phone.  I took some screenshots of that too.


Standard Textbook stuff…



Video Assignments…


Table of Contents by Unit


One of my answer keys with handwriting.

Now the ideal scenario would be a tablet in every student’s hand.  That’s probably not going to happen.  But one of the cooler things about my master One Note copy is that it allows me to open everything from the notebook.  So if a student requested a physical printout, I could easily send one to the nearest printer and it would not be an issue.  I also will still have a classroom set of textbooks that I can check out to people, and could make that optional based on need.

I see so many phones and tablets and devices during the day, I think that most of my students could be a part of a Bring-Your-Own-Device class.

How exciting!

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